Weight, Age and Sex in Horse Racing

horse weighing scalesElsewhere on this site you’ll be able to read an in-depth guide to reading a race card, which will undoubtedly help you if you haven’t really seen one before and don’t know where to begin. One of the sections of a race card tells you about the age and sex of each horse taking part in a race as a well as the weight that they need to carry, but why is it so important to know that information?

One of the most obvious answers to that question comes in the form of precedent. After all, if no female horse has ever won a particular race then that’s information that’s helpful to be aware of when it comes time to place your bets. Likewise a certain race might have always been won by a horse of a given age, meaning that you’ll be able to all but ignore younger or older horses when you’re considering your wagers. Yet understanding each of these topics in more detail can give you an advantage when it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

As with handicapping, the topics of age, sex and weight are slightly different for flat racing and jump racing. We’ll try to make it clear when we’re talking about each of them, highlighting the difference between them when possible.

Why It Matters

flat horse raceFlat racing is seen by some as the most ‘pure’ example of the sport, mainly due to the fact that the horses don’t have to jump over any fences or other obstacles and are all thoroughbreds. A horse’s ability to run is the the thing that determines the outcome of a race, not whether or not their leg catches a jump on the way over and unbalances the jockey.

In jump racing, however, it’s all a little bit more complex. Those fences and other obstacles can have just as much of an impact on the outcome of a race as anything else, meaning that there’s more for a punter to take into account when placing their wagers. National Hunt races are often longer than flat races, resulting in a need to select an older horse that has more stamina and strength.

In flat racing all the horses are adolescent or young adults, and so age matters less, but weight is a big factor.  In jump racing the animals have more stamina and so weight often has less of an impact but age can be a big factor.

Age in Jump Racing

horses jumping a fence at the aintree grand national

You can often tell what sort of horse will be entered into a race on account of its race type. Here’s a look at the different categories in jump racing:

Junior and Juvenile

Though they sound similar, these are actually two different types of race. They’re both open to three-year-olds, with the horse’s ability and development dictating which of the two they’re more likely to be entered into. For example, juvenile races always take place over hurdles and will therefore be populated by horses that either have jump experience or else are seen as good prospects over obstacles. Junior races, meanwhile, are raced as National Hunt flat races and will therefore be run by horses that aren’t yet confident over obstacles or may never be run over them.

A quick note at this point about the age of horses. It’s quite misleading to see that a horse is three-years-old, four-years-old and so on. Regardless of when in the year a horse is born, they become a year older on the first of January. That means that a horse born on the second of January 2018 will be older than one born on the 31st of December 2018, but they’ll both be classed as three-years-old on the first of January 2021. This gives the horse born in January an advantage of age and experience over the one eleven months further behind in its development.

Maidens Races

No, not a race that’s open to Robin Hood’s girlfriend. Instead, a maidens race is one for horses that have yet to win a race of that kind in its career. A horse that has won a chase would be able to enter a Maiden Hurdle race, provided they hadn’t won a hurdle before, for example.

Novice Races

A novice race is linked in some way to maidens races, in the sense that they are open to horses that are inexperienced in the type of race on offer. The difference is that a horse that has won a hurdle is allowed to enter a novice hurdle race, provided the victory came within the same season. Let’s say that a horse enters a maidens hurdle and wins, then two weeks later is entered into a novice hurdle and wins that, it can continue to enter novice races until the end of the season.

The age of a horse doesn’t affect which type of race they’re allowed to enter with the exception of junior and juvenile races, which are only for three-year-olds.

Age in Flat Racing

flat horse race

There are some similarities in terms of the criteria for flat races, though the age of the horses taking part in each category is often different when compared to jump racing. Here’s a look at some of the different categories in play:


This is specifically for two-year-old horses and is a category of handicap races.


As with jump racing, this is for horses that are yet to win a race. There are also Rated Maidens, which are for horses that have a maximum rating that have already run three times or more.


This is for two-year-olds that have won no more than two races in the category.


collection of weights

Given that you’re now aware of the likely age of a horse in the races that it will enter in the early part of its career, let’s have a look at how the addition of weight will change its chance of winning.

Earning A Handicap

Handicap races have an official handicapper who will decide the handicap mark placed on each horse taking part in a race. They aren’t able to do this until a horse has either raced three times under code or else won a race under code.

Both the quality of race a horse will be permitted to enter and the extra weight that they’ll need to carry in that race are dictated by their handicap rating. It might seem quite obvious, but a horse that has a rating of 140 wouldn’t be allowed to enter a race that is for horses rated 130 or lower.

Entering The Race

Now that a horse’s handicap rating is known, they’ll want to enter and run in a race. One thing you’ll want to bear in mind when it comes to considering which horse to bet on is the fact that they will be given a penalty for a number of reasons, with that penalty resulting in extra weight carried during the race.

The word ‘penalty’ makes it sound like it’s as a result of a doing something wrong but in reality the opposite is usually true. Penalties can be issued for a horse running in a race not long after winning a different race, as an example.

Horse carry one pound less in weight for each point lower that their rating is when put up against the next closest horse. Let’s say one horse is rated as 112 and is carrying eleven stone and ten pounds, then if the next horse is rated 110 then they’ll have to carry eleven stone and eight pounds.

Remembering The Jockey

When bearing in mind how much weight a horse has to carry, the jockey is taken into account. In our example above, if the horse is supposed to carry eleven stone and ten pounds and the jockey that’s racing it weighs eleven stone exactly, an additional ten pounds will be added to the horse for the race. In some instances the jockey might actually weigh more than the horse is supposed to be carrying according to the handicapper, which leads to the horse’s starting weight being declared before a race gets underway.

That issue is complicated slightly when it comes to conditional jockeys. These are National Hunt apprentice jockeys under twenty-six years of age that haven’t yet won more than seventy-times under rules or during the last six months. Conditional jockeys are given a reduction in weight, known as an allowance, depending on how experience they are. As you might imagine, the least experienced jockeys are given the biggest reduction:

Fewer than twenty wins - seven pound reduction
Fewer than forty wins - five pound reduction
Fewer than seventy-five wins - three pound reduction

Jockeys racing a horse from a stable that they’re attached to receive an additional three pound reduction if they’ve won fewer than five races, to a maximum of ten pound being reduced.

Weight-For-Age Races

Weight-For-Age races, often referred to as ‘WFA’, are considered to amongst the fairest of the National Hunt handicapped races as they take into account a whole heap of criteria before adding the weight to each horse. Although the name suggests it’s only the age that’s taken into account, that’s actually not true and the following things are looked at:

The distance of the race
The month the race is taking place in
The sex of the horse
The age of the horse

Older horses are more capable of dealing with races that take place over longer distances, with male horses also growing stronger more quickly than female ones. As a result, weight-for-age races bear all of that in mind in the hope that it will even out the race as much as possible when the weight is added to each participant.

Flat Racing

In terms of the difference between National Hunt and flat racing, all horses carry the same weight in the Classics. As a result, weight for the big races is an irrelevance. There are still more than enough races in which it is worth thinking about, however.

As a rule of thumb, the same rules that apply to thinking about weight for jump racing also apply for flat racing, with the major difference being the age of the horses. Older male horses will be able to cope with more weight than younger female ones, as an example.

“Weighed In, Weighed In”

Anyone who has ever attended a race on a course or paid close attention when watching on the television will have heard an announcement declaring that the horses have been ‘weighed in’.

This comes after the race is completed, but before it can happen the competitors first need to be weighed out. Before a race gets underway, the jockey, saddle, and other pieces of equipment are weighed on scales to ensure that the weight a horse is carrying is known. When the race is completed they are then weighed again to ensure that nothing has changed.

The Sex Of The Horse

  • sport of kingsColts are male horses up to the age of five
  • Horses are males over the age of five
  • A gelding is a male that has been castrated
  • A female horse under the age of five is a filly
  • A filly becomes a mare once they’ve turned five

The information about a horse’s sex is important because some races have allowances for fillies and mares. This is normally between three and five pounds and depends on the horse’s age and the time of year that the race is taking place in.

Obviously if a race is only open to either fillies or mares then there won’t be an allowance given, with this only coming into play when horses of both sex are taking part in a race.